When chefs are asked to do a little bit of outside catering, and said job takes place in a different country, the lodgings are not expected to be anything to write home about. We are there to cook after all, not try out the new bed-springs, in-house spa or pool cocktail menu. So when in Portugal recently on a SA Ostrich Business Chamber gig, rocking up at the Hotel Tivoli Lisboa was a serious bonus. More of a bonus was realising that Louis Baena was the executive chef at the hotel’s restaurant ( I’m not that up-to-date with the Portuguese celeb chef scene) and we got to work from his kitchen and meet him and everything! (www.louisbaena.com) Ok enough gushing.
The point is that he took us out to Cervejaria Ramiro. Now Cervejaria Ramiro is not just a place to eat mariscos and drink cerveja. It is THE place. Judging by the uber-long queue outside and inside, this is local general knowledge. The fact that it’s in serious downtown Lisboa ( Avenida Almirante Reis 1) is clearly not an issue.
So what did we have? EVERYTHING! Chef Louis was an incredible host – and after jumping a massive line outside, we had a succession of the the most amazing seafood dishes I’ve ever had. All accompanied by never-ending glasses of beer! First up were clams, slowly opened with garlic and coriander, followed by percebes – the seasonal gooseneck barnacle I’ve been waiting to try for so long. Totally worth it. A massive spider crab followed next with fresh bread, as well as prawns sauteed in chilli and garlic. This was the second time we had prawns in Lisbon and I was once again amzed at how perfectly cooked they were. Elsewhere in the world – they seem to be the number one ingredient all too frequently f***** up by chefs.
We weren’t done. Tiny prawns, first from the north of Portugal, then more, but from the South, arrived. Shell on, and simply steamed and seasoned with sea salt. Exceptional. Normally this would be toward the end of the meal – but not before we had grilled lobster… And then, of course it is custom here to end a seafood meal with a prego roll – which we did. I had reached absolute seafood nirvana (term originally by Pete Goffe-Wood) by now, and did not understand the prego roll excitement, but hey – when in Rome do as the Romans do… Then we got to see the jambons and tanks that house all the live seafood sold on the premises. Talk about the whole package… Back in the dining room, a Pasteis de Nata and tasters of local digestifs were sampled. It doesn’t get any better than this..